If you want to buy an expensive car you have to pay for it, planning authority chairman Austin Walker said with a smile yesterday when asked whether he deserved his €93,000 salary, excluding benefits.

He acknowledged he had no experience or interest in planning before he was appointed chairman of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority.

Interviewed by Vanessa MacDonald at the Intercontinental Hotel, Mr Walker was asked about the oversupply of buildings, his relationship with the Mepa auditor and the "rubber-stamping" of big national projects, among other issues.

"Whatever action you take will provoke a reaction," he said, stressing that Mepa would never be able to overcome all criticism because there were always interests involved.

He said there was an "unacceptable" number of vacant buildings but this could not be addressed until policies were changed. "How would you feel if you filed an application that met all policies but was still refused because of oversupply," he asked.

He pointed out that when policies would be revised to tackle oversupply some people would be unable to carry out projects their neighbours would have been perfectly free to do. "But planning is all about discrimination."

Mr Walker talked about the "awkward situation" Mepa was placed in every time the government awarded a tender to a company for a big national project, which was then put before Mepa to decide.

"The people who disagree with the project say we are being used as rubber stamps and the people who agree with the project, including the government, expect Mepa to accept it."

There had to be a better way of handling such developments, like the City Gate project, in Valletta or the Delimara power station extension, where, perhaps, Parliament could decide rather than the authority.

Asked about public perception that Mepa was a corrupt institution, Mr Walker joked that when he first joined he expected to see people coming in with envelopes of cash.

He pointed out there were so many people involved in the permit process it would be difficult to bribe any one person.

Mr Walker said his relationship with Mepa auditor Joe Falzon was not "sour" as portrayed in the media. He understood a lot of Mr Falzon's frustrations, especially since remedial action was more often than not impossible because it would be unfair to revoke a permit that had already been granted.

Enforcement was also brought up during the interview and Mr Walker said Mepa was trying to address the environmental deficit and the mistakes of the past by also focusing on enforcement.

Yet, when the authority took action, some law-breakers were still emerging as victims because the public did not take into consideration all correspondence that went on before such enforcement.

Regarding the importance of preserving the aesthetics and quality of the built-up area, Mr Walker said that when there was an aesthetics board mistakes were still made and when policies bordered on the aesthetics Mepa was criticised for stifling creativity. The president of the Chamber of Architects, Vincent Cassar appealed for Mr Walker to set up a Design Review Board, which would analyse applications before they were issued for approval.

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